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A CurtainUp Review
All American Girls
The opening scene is both eye-catching and exhilirating. We watch six Black women in a tautly-choreographed sequence, following the loud staccato commands of their leader, Coach Hicks (Arlene A. McGruder), who barks orders and slogans which they enact in miniature a baseball game in progress. In the blackout that follows a spotlight reveals newspaper intern Laura James (Mari White), who speaks through the fourth wall to the audience. She confides that she has arrived in Springfield, Illinois to interview the members of the team in hopes of learning the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Coach Hicks in the middle of the night, just two weeks before their "million dollar" exhibition game in Chicago. Laura, in Nancy Drew fashion, tells us that the original police investigation was spotty and that some facts might well have been swept under the rug in a cover-up scheme.
The action then shifts to flashback interviews in the locker room. The young women give Laura two vital facts: First that Hicks was tough-as-nails as a coach; secondly, that she tried to seduce the doll-faced Betty (Daphnee Duplaix) during a private batting practice. The players' testimonies are too inconsistent for Laura to piece together a plausible theory or draw any solid conclusions. I won't be a spoiler by detailing what happened to the Coach. Dramatic as it is, Gray spoils it with syrupy sentimentality. Anybody who saw his Black Angels Over Tuskegee (review)t will recall that the playwright has a penchant for ratcheting up the emotional temperature of certain scenes. While this isn't always a bad thing, in All American Girls, the sentiment is poured on with a a trowel.
All American Girls is a reworking of The Girls of Summer which was presented at the New York at the 2006 Midtown International Theatre Festival. Although this new version is trimmer than the earlier effort, it still clocks in at over 2 hours. onsiderable tightening is in order.
The best thing about this production is in the performances. All the female actors are feisty and extremely focused. Their conspicuous athleticism fuses well with their showmanship. Mari White's Laura is the personnification of a budding investigative journalist. Though Arlene McGruder's Coach Hicks is more caricature than fully-realized character, she nevertheless injects much zest into her part. As the no-nonsense Mr. West, Steve Brustein is the only male actor on stage but he holds his own playing the former baseball scout turned businessman.
The Big Band Jazz music bu sound designer Aidan Cole) and the baseball choreographed scenes (by Gray) add period flavor.
Though this lacks the impact of Black Angels Over Tuskegee, the creative impulse is not to be dismissed. Many people don't know that women played in the Negro Leagues in 1945 Chicago and their story is well worth documenting and celebrating.